Superheroes’ lives are getting shorter.
The first feature Superman series began in 1978—and it was 28 years before Hollywood felt it had to completely start all over again in 2006, with Superman Returns.
Tim Burton’s Batman reclaimed the hero from serials and camp TV in 1989; it would be 16 years before Christopher Nolan rethought the Dark Knight for Batman Begins, in 2005.
Now, we’ve got The Amazing Spider-Man—a mere 10 years after the original Spider-Man. And while that’s not a record (that would probably go to the two Hulk movies, made within five years of each other), it may be the start of a trend.
Except this episode doesn’t feel so much like a new twist on an old character as it does a souped-up version of the original film—with better effects and a new villain, and the same old hero swinging through the skyscrapers.
And that’s just fine.
A decade ago, Spider-Man served as a template for a new era of Marvel movies—funny (but not farcical), authentic (but not geek-driven) and cast with good actors who took their jobs seriously. The new Amazing Spider-Man is smart enough to follow all those old rules—but to add more eye candy, too.
Oh, we get a little more background this time around on Peter Parker’s parents, and how he was orphaned. (A little too much background—the film gets off to a slow start.) Gwen Stacy is the love interest, rather than Mary Jane Watson, and although Peter still has his camera, he’s no longer shooting for the Daily Bugle.
There’s also a slight shift in the usual go-it-alone emphasis of superhero movies. In this one, Spider-Man needs help from everyone—Gwen, the police, even random New Yorkers. (His “secret identity” isn’t so well kept, either—by the end of the film, it seems as if everybody except dear Aunt May has cottoned on to who he is.)
But other than that, this film basically follows the lead of the first, going through the origin story (spider bite, strange powers), the motivation (tragedy at home, search for justice), a similar enemy (potential father figure turned twisted) and even tacking on the same noble ending (albeit a slightly softer one).
So, if you saw the first film a decade ago, why run out to see this one now, at probably twice the original ticket price?
Well, a few good reasons.
The first is the effects. As much fun as the original Spider-Man was a decade ago, even then the computer graphics were only so-so; scenes of the superhero swinging through Manhattan’s steel canyons looked slightly cartoonish. By now, though, the technology has finally caught up with our imaginations—this Spider-Man swings.
The second is the actors. Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst were fine in the original film (and there’s still nothing in this one to rival their iconic, upside-down kiss). Yet Andrew Garfield brings a newly dark, mumbling sarcasm; Emma Stone adds whip-smart intelligence. And together they have an easy and convincing attraction (as they should—they became a couple while making the film).
The supporting actors add some spice too. Denis Leary is a fierce, funny presence as Stone’s father (and, as head of the police, Garfield’s pursuer). And Rhys Ifans is an intriguing villain as the maimed, messianic scientist who becomes the Lizard.
So yes, if you think you’ve seen this all before—you have. Yet you haven’t seen it quite like this—so shiny, so spectacular, so literally Amazing. Because the new Spider-Man isn’t just another faithful recreation of an old model.
Like The Avengers, it’s the creation of a new model for the next generation.
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